Monday, February 27, 2012

The Cardinal Challenge

What is that strange flapping noise?

I slowed my pace on my power-walk around the hotel lot just after dawn last Saturday and looked around. My make-shift track circled the expansive building and at the moment, had led me to the tree-lined fence separating the parking lot from a tangle of neglected woods at the rear of the property.

Muted light was just filtering in from the east as my eyes scanned the too-early-to-be-peopled parking lot. Ah, there was the odd noise again. I honed in on a van about 15 feet away and what I saw brought me to a complete halt.

It was a male cardinal. I know it was a male because for some reason God made the male cardinal's crimson plumage dramatically brilliant while the females are duller than dishwater. It's like the boy birds are decked out in tuxedos while the girls get stuck with ratty old housecoats.

Anyhow, this little fellow was putting on quite a show, flitting about, tweeting and chirping and flirting with the beautiful bird in the large side view mirror of the van. He was completely engrossed in conversing with ... himself. He'd perch on top of the mirror for a while, pecking fetchingly at his reflection in the shiny chrome, then lean over the side, inverting himself completely upside down to catch a glimpse of the intriguing birdie in the mirror.

Then he'd swoop down and hover in front of his own reflection, giving himself little kisses and coos of admiration.

I had to laugh. It reminded me too much of some people I know.

But as I continued my early morning exercise jaunt, I started thinking that maybe we all ought to be a little more like that cardinal. Oh, I don't mean we should strive to be more self-absorbed or narcissistic, no. But at least we should have enough self-respect and love for ourselves that we that don't rue spending time in our own company. That we don't disgust ourselves so much that we turn everywhere but inward, seeking escape from ourselves through drugs, alcohol, obsessions, work, shop-til-you-drop, or whatever our evasion tactic happens to be.

I can't say that I've wooed my own reflection lately, but I have been working on cutting back on the negative self-talk and trying to view myself more as a Cinderella-in-progress than a done-deal-Shrek. To get it in my head that beaut-i-tude is fluid and when I spend time with myself and Papa God, it's a lot more productive - and fun - than leaving Him out.

So my goal for this week is to emulate my little cardinal buddy and come up with 3 things every day that I like about myself. And they can't be the same things over and over (like my slender toes, wacky sense of humor, and the fact that my teeth aren't falling out. Yet.). As creative as Papa God is, I'm sure if I dig deep, I can find 21 things to be thankful for about this Debbie girl He fashioned.

Will you take the cardinal challenge with me?     



Monday, February 13, 2012

Tribute to a Victorious Life

Photo by Marian Crawford
My husband and I were stunned when the call came.

"You need to come now," my nephew said, his voice catching. "It doesn't look like she'll make it through the night."

He was referring to his mother, my dear sister-in-law, Suzi, who had seemed the very picture of vitality before she'd unexpectedly received a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer two days after Christmas. It had already spread to her spine, ribs, and hips, and the doctors gave her only 6-12 months. Maybe more with treatment.

But it wasn't to be. The cancer progressed more quickly than they thought. The phone call that rocked our world came just six weeks later.

It's true that we're all just one phone call from our knees.

When we arrived at Suzi's home, hospice had set up a hospital bed in her family room beside the wall lined with dozens of black-and-white photos of her ancestors. But Suzi couldn't see them; her eyes remained closed most of the time, except for the few moments she cracked them open to respond to her daughter's voice, or when her beloved brother arrived. And then it was questionable how much she was really seeing, for her normally twinkling blue eyes were glazed and dull with impending death.

We, the family, took turns speaking to Suzi, and caressing her hands and sponging her forehead in attempt to soothe pain-induced writhing. An hour passed painstakingly slowly.

But then something truly amazing happened.

Suddenly, Suzi threw back her head and lifted wide, clear eyes toward the ceiling directly above her bed. It was so obvious that she was looking at something, we all gazed upward to see what had commanded her attention. Our mortal eyes could see nothing, but Suzi, already passing through the effervescent veil into eternity, seemed mesmerized.

In one accord, we recalled her husband's account of Suzi's midnight conversation with Jesus a few days earlier. In the darkest of nights, Suzi, her husband declared, had begun answering and asking questions to an unseen bedside visitor, whom she identified with complete confidence as Jesus. Suzi's normal conversational cadence and pauses for responses that her husband couldn't hear caused him to believe with all certainty that the presence of the Son of God was unquestionably in that room, and every bit as real as if she'd been talking to her best friend.

At that time, Suzi told her husband that Jesus had said it wasn't yet time for her to come, but that she needed to stay and fight a little while longer. And then, in the end, she would win the battle. 

And victorious she was, as she drew her last breath and the people who had loved her most in this brief life ushered her into the next by joining hands around her bed, praying and singing hymns and praise songs through their tears.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints," (Psalm 116:15, KJV).

As precious as Suzi was to those who knew and loved her, what immense comfort to know she's even more precious to her Creator and the Lover of her Soul who welcomed her home with opened arms.

Certainly makes one think. Life after life .. am I ready? Are you ready?  


Thursday, February 9, 2012


Be careful little eyes what you see,
Oh  be careful little eyes what you see,
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love,
So be careful little eyes what you see.

There I was, driving along, singing at the top of my lungs to my wee grandson's kiddie CD when I suddenly smacked into the brick wall. No, not literally (thank you, Jesus), but it felt like it.

I wasn't expecting to be convicted by a children's song, for pity's sake. But there it was, the fiery arrow of true guilt zinging straight into my heart, hiding beneath the unassuming words of the last verse:

Be careful little mind what you think,
Oh be careful little mind what you think,
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love,
So be careful little mind what you think.

The Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little mind what you think.

All at once it hit me. All those times (and lately it seems like a gazillion) when I've bitten back a harsh response to a co-worker, boss, crazy driver, clerk, family member or friend, and instead thought searing, critical, or sarcastic replies that I thought were private ... weren't. The Joan Rivers in my head seems always to be hot to go and never hesitates to skewer anyone who crosses me. 

Silently, of course. I am, after all, an inspirational writer and speaker.

I thought I was doing the "Christian" thing by not blasting the victim with my verbal Uzi.
I thought I was being patient and even kind by putting them in their place mentally instead of physically.
I thought being a reflection of Jesus was surface stuff ... like the shimmering reflection of trees in a pond. 
I thought turning away and rolling my eyes and biting my tongue was acceptable in God's sight because no actual relationship damage was done. No messes to clean up. No apologies to utter.
I thought that nobody hears what I don't say.
But I was wrong.

Somebody hears. Somebody important.

The Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little mind what you think. 

Gulp. My only consolation is that He is indeed looking down at me in love and promises to forgive all that faulty thinking. And maybe sharpen my reflection, too, so someone can actually tell Who the blurry image is supposed to be.

But that's not enough. The next step is to replace my stinkin' thinkin' with something else. Something strong enough and satisfying enough that I won't be tempted to reload my weapon and slip back into nastyland. Something like the apostle Paul had in mind in Philippians 4:8: "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right."

So now I'm trying to come up with a Yield sign for my thoughts. A short, powerful slogan that will become my automatic default when my eyeballs start to roll and sarcastic inner responses beg to placate my desire for personal retribution.

Got any ideas? What helps you sharpen your reflection?